Securing data, even in the fog
- By George Kamis
- Jan 31, 2020
The number of devices connected to the internet continues to climb, with Intel Corp. estimating that number will grow to 200 billion this year, enabled by the cloud and mobile device technology. The military is far from exempt from this mega-trend, as ships, weapons, drones and even combat gear become equipped with sensors. These smart military devices demonstrate the dramatic increase in internet-of-things devices everywhere, including at the tactical edge.
The sheer number of edge devices gathering massive quantities of different types of data, makes sending everything to a centralized cloud infrastructure for processing and storage less than practical and extremely resource-intensive. For overseas warfighters in particular, sending that data to a Defense Department or intelligence community cloud provider resident in the United States can mean the loss of precious time and intelligence -- a delay those on the front line can’t afford.
The fog of war and information dominance
Enter fog computing, which refers to a low-level cloud that sits closer to the tactical edge and offers a middle ground between cloud computing (standard centralized data centers) and edge computing (where computing occurs locally, on the connected device). The fog layer consists of servers, closer to the edge, which offer intermediate processing, with data only going back to a centralized cloud as required.
Fog computing presents significant benefits to defense forces in combat, especially in remote areas where communications are limited. Only essential information will make its way to the cloud, saving precious bandwidth and increasing the speed of information-sharing. This provides the U.S. military with an advantage when it comes to acting on real-time data and intelligence.
Fog computing introduces a new paradigm
Last March, the National Institute of Standards and Technology published a conceptual model for fog computing, describing it as "a horizontal, physical or virtual resource paradigm that resides between smart end-devices and traditional cloud or data centers." It also outlined numerous characteristics of fog computing, including low latency, a large number of nodes and real-time analytics -- all of which are particularly relevant in a military context.
Cloud providers have adapted to fit this paradigm. For example, Microsoft's Azure Stack Edge “extends the hybrid cloud to the edge of your business (or mission),” while Amazon Web Services' AWS Snowball Edge boasts that it is “designed for rugged deployments in unfriendly environments.” Fog computing, particularly when operating in conjunction with edge computing, can greatly improve latency and security, with less data sent and stored to the centralized cloud.
Sharing data in the fog with cross-domain technology
Administrators still must ensure that any data processed in the fog layer is protected, including data at multiple classification levels (e.g., Unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret). Just as multiple clouds exist for different classification levels, multiple fog layers will be developed at different classification levels. As with the cloud, edge and fog computing users will need to move data between multiple security levels so it can be used to its full potential -- and that can only be done with cross-domain technology.
Cross-domain cloud technology allows for data sharing between various networks and classification levels, monitoring those data transfers and ensuring only correct, authorized and sanitized information is moved. The same holds true in the fog.
Smart or IoT devices at the tactical edge run at varying classification levels. To be effective, the data they collect must be able to be shared seamlessly between those different levels, with proper redactions, data validation and sanitization. Data gathered from unclassified drones or wearable devices, for example, may need to be pushed up to a higher classified level for action.
Lowering latency and offering real-time insights is only half the challenge on the battlefield. Cross-domain technologies and fog computing allow information gathered from the exploding number of sensors and devices to be rapidly and securely shared between network levels locally -- without having to be sent back to cloud providers and servers in the United States.
The best decisions, even in the fog
The bottom line is that for the tactical IoT to be fully and securely realized, cross-domain technologies are required. They allow crucial data processing to take place closer to the network edge, ensuring warfighters on the front lines can make the best and fastest decisions possible.
George Kamis is CTO for global governments and critical infrastructure at Forcepoint.